The Gospel According to Beer: consuming or being consumed

SERIES INTRO:

I’m posting a series of essays I put together a while ago.  A few friends and relatives read through the content and the responses were encouraging so I thought I would give them a whirl here.  Over the next few days I’ll post the essays and then follow up with some concluding thoughts.  As always, I hope my writing is helpful and I look forward to your feedback.

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For those of you who drink beer with a sense of reverence and intentionality I hope the following content will call you into a deeper relationship with: 1) Jesus, and 2) good beer.  For those of you who by conscience, conviction, or experience choose not to partake of this brewed beverage, I hope the following words still draw you into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Ever since I turned 21 (so many years ago) I have been taking an informal survey.  The purpose of this survey has been pretty basic given its complete lack of scientific rigor and any other element that makes for a legitimate survey.  All qualifying statements aside, I have asked many a beer drinker, what “kind” of beer they first drank when they began regularly consuming beer.  The results will probably not surprise many of you.  I find the most common response to be, “whatever was the cheapest.”

If you happened to be on the campus of Purdue University somewhere around the Spring of 2004, the “whatever was the cheapest” translated to Keystone Light.  I think that translation still stands, but I could be wrong.  Certainly various colleges, universities, towns and the like have their preferred “cheap” regional favorites, but a central point can be derived from this general response regardless of the varieties.

For many fledgling beer drinkers it’s all about consuming the most beer with the smallest investment possible.  Pragmatically it makes sense, one is after all trying to get the most bang for their buck…or so they think.  In recent years new developments have come about in the area of beer drinking mechanics furthering this goal.  I am speaking first of the “wide-mouth” can which I believe was a response to all the irate beer drinkers who were writing brewers demanding that they should be able to “get more beer in them quicker”.  They were after all, tired of drinking beer from a spoon. As if the wide mouth can wasn’t enough, many brewers also added a little air vent so even more beer could efficiently make its way to the tummy of its consumers.    Point taken: MORE IS BETTER, QUICKER IS BETTER and MORE QUICKER is the MOST BETTER.

The trouble is that the “MORE for LESS” and “MORE-QUICKER” mentality tends not to leave many beer drinkers.  A fledgling tendency becomes a life long tendency, pragmatism of this order sees no reason for change because consuming is the goal and many are reaching their goal.

Theological Reflection:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

 Let the message of Christ dwell among you…

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

 I am convinced that the faith we have in Christ Jesus knows nothing of the kind of consuming I’ve previously described.  We are not people who are looking for a better way to consume God the Father, Son, or Spirit. We are however, a people who long for God’s unique presence in, through, and around us; a presence that one scholar poignantly calls “elusive”.[1]  We cannot consume that which dwells, because we are not buying and then taking His presence, but receiving it as a gift.  From this perspective we become humbled by this presence that rejects consumeristic ideals.

We do not really want more of God for less investment (as if we could get away with such a thing). We long for more of God so that we ourselves become less, and in becoming less, we find ourselves consumed by God.  The “wide-mouth” can approach to Christian spirituality insists that the more religious goods and services one consumes the more fulfilled one will be.  The truth remains that no such good or service will grasp the rich presence of God the He fills us with.

There is little doubt in my mind why so many are so fond of cheap and light beer; it gives an experience (although fleeting) with little investment.  This is the beer that drunkenness is made of, cheap, easy, and well marketed.  Scripture considers drunkenness a display of idolatry, an elevating of that which is not God to the status of God.  I have known people who seemingly lived to get drunk.  As with all idolatry, they were looking to get an experience that satisfied their own desires, and so they used a consumed good to that end.  The physical beer was not the issue, but the purpose of its use was.  For these folks it wasn’t about enjoying the goodness of something, it was about using something for their own purposes no matter how destructive that might be.  Idolatry robs the goodness of things from the consumeristic person, it makes one a slave to experiences that will never really remain.

Christians who seek a spiritual experience as an end unto itself commit a similar idolatry to that of the drunkard.  Christian consumerism becomes the vented wide-mouth can of spirituality.  Attend the right high energy worship service and get your fix, then leave with a sense of satisfaction that it only took you an hour to get spiritually hammered.  With this sort of understanding of spirituality you might as well become a Buddhist.

I am thankful for the work of Christ that has been done apart from my own activity as a potential consumer.  The gracious gift of the cross throws up a holy middle finger to any mentality that seeks fleeting spiritual experiences for little personal investment.  Jesus tells us, Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Mt. 10:38-39).  When it comes to the Gospel, we don’t consume, instead, we are consumed by the call of Christ.  No easy drinking, less filling message here, just an abiding presence that calls you and I to die and be raised again to new life.

[1] Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (Wipf & Stock Publishers) 2000.

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